From Associated Press

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI began his first trip to the Middle East on Friday, expressing his “deep respect” for Islam and hopes that the Catholic Church would be a force for peace in the region as he treaded carefully following past missteps with Muslims and Jews.

The pope was given a red-carpet welcome at the airport by Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Queen Rania and praised the moderate Arab country as a leader in efforts to promote peace and dialogue between Christians and Muslims. An honor guard wearing traditional red- and white-checkered headscarfs played bagpipes and waved Jordanian and Vatican flags.

The trip to the Holy Land is the first for the German-born Benedict, who will travel on Monday for a much-anticipated four days in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Despite the lavish welcome ceremony, the pope has faced sharp criticism in the Middle East – by both Muslims and Jews.

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